In domestic cases, there may be a number of experts that are called upon to testify during a hearing. For example, a doctor may testify about a child’s medical condition, a CPA may testify about the value of a business, or a clinical psychologist may testify about a custody evaluation performed.
However, there are limitations to who is an expert and what witnesses can testify about. For example, under Indiana law, a licensed clinical social worker is prohibited from providing expert testimony1. Specifically, the Indiana statute allows that social workers can provide factual testimony (ex. the social worker met with the child on Tuesday and observed that the child’s demeanor was timid) but not expert testimony.
A recent Court of Appeals case examined the conflict between this Indiana statute and Indiana Rule of Evidence 7022, which does not contain the social worker exclusion for expert testimony. In B.H. & B.H. and T.H. vs. The Indiana Department of Child Services, the matter at hand involved testimony from a social worker regarding a parenting assessment called the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (CAPI) 3.
In this case, the children were adjudicated to be Children in Need of Services (CHINS). As such, Mother was offered services and a plan to regain custody of her children, including drug screens and services. Mother failed to abide by the plan, and a termination hearing was conducted. At this hearing, the social worker (with a master’s degree in social work) who had worked with Mother, testified about her administration of the CAPI test to Mother to determine the likelihood of Mother’s tendency to physically abuse the children.
The social worker testified that the CAPI test has been widely used for many years and is accepted in the psychiatric profession, which was subject to peer-reviewed studies. The social worker ultimately determined that Mother’s CAPI score indicated the children would be at risk in Mother’s care. Mother’s parental rights were terminated after the full hearing was conducted. Mother appealed the social worker’s expert testimony.
The trial court found that the social worker was an expert and allowed her testimony regarding the CAPI test. The Court of Appeals held that while there was a conflict between Indiana statute and the Rules of Evidence, the Rules of Evidence prevail. And, since the Rules of Evidence do not preclude a social worker from providing expert testimony, the social worker’s testimony was allowed. Further, Indiana case law had previously provided that Ind. Code §25-23.6-4-6 cannot prohibit a licensed clinical social worker from being qualified as an expert as Evidence Rule 702(a) allows that a witness may qualify as an expert on the basis of experience alone4.
The Court of Appeals upheld the termination of Mother’s parental rights. This ruling helped determine that while generally, under Indiana statutes a social worker cannot be an expert, that there are exceptions. Further, that when a state law is in conflict with the Rules of Evidence, the Rules of Evidence will prevail.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring the nuances of potential expert testimony involving social workers. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.